Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti

The Purity Myth
Jessica Valenti Publisher
2009, 272 pgs
Purchased (Kindle)

Book Summary (from Goodreads)
The United States is obsessed with virginity — from the media to schools to government agencies. In The Purity Myth Jessica Valenti argues that the country’s intense focus on chastity is damaging to young women. Through in-depth cultural and social analysis, Valenti reveals that powerful messaging on both extremes — ranging from abstinence curriculum to “Girls Gone Wild” infomercials — place a young woman’s worth entirely on her sexuality. Morals are therefore linked purely to sexual behavior, rather than values like honesty, kindness, and altruism. Valenti sheds light on the value — and hypocrisy — around the notion that girls remain virgin until they’re married by putting into context the historical question of purity, modern abstinence-only education, pornography, and public punishments for those who dare to have sex. The Purity Myth presents a revolutionary argument that girls and women are overly valued for their sexuality, as well as solutions for a future without a damaging emphasis on virginity.

My Thoughts
I think the above summary is pretty good. Over the last few years I’ve really started to question how much of a woman’s value is based on her sexuality, but this book brought it all home for me. What is virginity really? Why is it so much of a focus for women (but not for men)? Why are girls defined as good or bad based on whether they’ve had sex rather than how they treat others and what they accomplish? Valenti lays out how the abstinence only education/purity movement and the porn industry are really just 2 sides of the same coin. Both assign value to women based on their sexuality. She also ties this into our culture/media’s tendency to blame the victim in rapes cases. The way the book is structured makes it read quickly (except for the parts where I was so mad/grossed out I wanted to throw the book across the room – not a good idea on Kindle). Here are two such sections:

And, of course, there are purity balls - the federally funded father/daughter dances where girls as young as age six pledge their virginity to their dads, who in turn pledge to hang on to said virginity until an appropriate husband comes along, to whom the fathers can transfer ownership of their daughters.

I personally don't think six years olds should be making any sexual decisions.

Take Cassandra Hernandez, a female Air Force air person who was raped by three of her colleagues at a party - where, yes, she was drinking. After she went to the hospital and filed a report, the Air Force treated her to a harsh interrogation - so harsh, in fact, that Hernandez decided not to testify against her attackers. Instead of giving her the treatment she deserved, the Air Force charged Hernandez with underage drinking and "indecent acts". To make matters worse, Hernandez's three attackers were offered immunity from sexual assault if they testified against her on the indecent-acts charge. So, in effect, she was charged with her own rape.

This was when I almost threw my Kindle. I had two issues as I read the book. I love numbers. Don’t just generally tell me something is the fastest-growing form of plastic surgery in the US. Tell me how many happened five years ago and how many happened last year. Also, as I was reading Valenti did such a good job of convincing me that abstinence only education and the chastity movement were such a problem that I wanted to know what I could do to fix it. The second concern was completely resolved at the end of the book. An entire chapter is dedicated to steps the reader can take to affect change. The numbers concern wasn’t entirely resolved, but did improve as the book went on. The Purity Myth reads very quickly for non-fiction. If one of my biggest concerns is that I want to know what to do to fix the problem the author has obviously accomplished what she set out to.


8 out of 10 stars

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